As Women’s Day is creeping up, there’s an increasing number of conversations about what we can do to #PressforProgress. On the one hand, it’s exciting to see that gender equality has been getting more and more attention over the past few years, on the other hand, it’s sad that we still need this one day in the year to give us a nudge to actually do something about it.

I’ve never considered myself to be a feminist. That’s not to say I don’t care about women’s rights, quite the opposite, I’m very much an advocate for equality but I don’t support initiatives or conversations that promote hate against men and call it girl power. In that spirit, today we’re talking about how each and every one of us may unknowingly be promoting gender bias online.

She’s so beautiful and he’s so smart

Whenever a photo hits Facebook or Instagram and there’s a woman in it, you can be sure at least one person is going to call her pretty, gorgeous or cute. The most frequent gender biased behaviour on social media is using a specific, very limited vocabulary to describe women.

I was stunned to read a friend’s post in my Facebook newsfeed commenting on the split-up of a famous couple with something along the lines of What a shame. She’s so gorgeous and he’s so smart, they were perfect for each other. Essentially, she’s got the looks and he’s got the brains and that assessment is somehow ok….It’s pretty much when I decided to write this post.

I think we tend to default to pretty because we’re paying compliments to validate how others should feel about themselves but women are more than just pretty and should be acknowledged as such.

Sisters, your worth is not defined by how you look… I see your beauty through your acts of kindness and when I hear the strength in your powerful voice. You are a STRONG. AMAZING. WOMAN! It’s time to embrace life and all of the wrinkles, pimples and saggy bits that go with it because this is the only life that you are going to get. Don’t stand on the side lines, throw yourself into the fun stuff head first. When you embrace you, you embrace life… and I can show you how! Head to the link in the bio to learn more. . . . #embraceyouonline #ihaveembraced #embracethedocumentary #bodyimage #bodyimageissues #bodypositivity #bodyimagemovement #embrace #positivevibes #womenshealth #womenfashion #women #bodypositive #bopo

A post shared by Body Image Movement (@bodyimagemovement) on

While Taryn is gorgeous, you may notice that even though this is clearly a portrait, part of an account that promotes body positivity, and therefore a great set up for comments on her appearance, very few really refer to her looks, and in this context, the messages are actually empowering.

Many social media posts aren’t really intended to act like a compliment collection box so instead of superficially replying to a post with pretty <3,  put 30 seconds into it and read the person’s caption, you may find you have something a lot more meaningful to say and contribute to a more accurate perception of women.

Posting photos to get compliments

Since we’re on the topic of compliment collection boxes, we do have to admit that there are quite a few of them, especially on Instagram. As one of the more visual social media platforms, with a mostly young audience, you don’t have to look very hard to find posts of women posing for likes and compliments.

Yours don’t have to be in that category. Many times, the way people engage with our posts, depends on how we’ve set the post up in the first place.

“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” Virginia Woolf Regram of @stuartjennerphotography capturing the traditional elegance of the Nubra Valley

A post shared by AHF (@australianhimalayanfoundation) on

I’ve found that people default to stereotypes when they don’t have enough context or we’re not giving them enough substance to focus on, so they’re falling back onto the things they’re used to.

Because, when it comes to women, these stereotypes tend to gravitate around appearance, it’s important we put some time and effort into shaping a different, more meaningful context. You can open a conversation about traditions, books, your lunch or arithmetics but don’t caption your post with Cutie. Y or N? and expect to get anything other than shallow comments about your appearance.

Made by women for women

This one’s always puzzled me. I understand why it may be appealing to some advertisers but I wonder if it’s actually appealing for consumers. I’ve never used it because I’ve found it’s not only sexist towards men, it also promotes an inaccurate perception that only women can truly understand what women want.

If you’re promoting colourful, delicate scarves to women, one option is to use messages like designed by women, with gorgeous women in mind. Another, much more creative and powerful message is to stick them on massive spears and convey a message of strength and confidence.


A post shared by Desigual (@desigual) on

This is probably the part where you’re going to say that we’re giving consumers what they want. I would argue that we’re giving them what we think they want because we’re too apprehensive or lazy to try and do better. When all your choices are just pretty, you’re going to look at the fabric, length, and style options all by yourself, meaning your purchase is influenced by factors mostly outside of the marketing message, making it absolutely useless.

How we market our products, sets certain expectations for consumers and, while we might want them to associate what we’re selling with certain attributes, we should try and position said products in a way that speaks to women as complete human beings, rather than shallow damsels hunting for ornaments.

The Bottom Line

Behaviours are formed in time and through repetitive actions and reactions so every little drop that keeps dripping, given enough time, forges a path through anything. With digital being such an integral part of our lives, how we communicate online has a massive influence on how we behave offline. Always using adjectives like pretty, cute, sweet, gorgeous when referring to women, rather than smart, capable, creative or strong reinforces the perceptions we’re fighting so hard to reshape.

To truly see progress, we need to also be mindful of the ways we might be perpetuating these myths, from misconceptions like women want beautiful, pink things and we need to look young forever to women are too emotional to do a job.  Sometimes, we might just be looking for a warm sweater, a hammer and for people to give us a chance.

© 2018 Shoestrings & Fancy Things. All Rights Reserved.